Heatwave cravings explained: Why our eating habits change during hot weather

ice cream on beach in a heatwave
Have you ever found yourself craving certain foods when there's a heatwave? There's a reason for that. (Getty Images)

The sun is glaring, you're feeling a bit sticky, and you could probably murder an ice lolly, cold fizzy drink or refreshing salad to help get you through these long summer months.

It seems common knowledge that hot weather is a time for lighter food – nobody fancies a heavy stew during soaring temperatures.

But, why exactly do we lean towards eating certain things we would never dream of having in colder months? Is it out of habit or are our food fancies dictated to us by our cravings?

Read more: Here's how much water you actually need to drink every day - Yahoo Life UK, 2-min read

Why our eating habits change during hot weather

Turns out, there is a more scientific reason why our eating habits change in the summer.

"With the heat of summer comes more sweating, cravings for colder foods and drinks, and generally less of an appetite," Dr Alona Pulde says.

"When the weather is hot, we naturally crave foods and drinks that will cool us down."

And here's for the part that we don't have a whole lot of control over.

"The hypothalamus, a region in the brain responsible for both regulating our temperature and our hunger, is especially busy during the summer months," says Pulde, of nutrition platform Lifesum.

She explains that when the weather is warm, the hypothalamus is in 'over-drive' to help keep us cool.

Yellow ice lolly summer. (Getty Images)
Craving an ice lolly right now? (Getty Images)

"Because digesting food generates heat, the hypothalamus suppresses our appetite to prevent additional heat from building up in our body," adds Pulde.

"Replacing our hunger is thirst to combat the dehydration that results from longer hours spent outdoors sweating."

So, that might be why you'd rather reach for an ice-cold bottle of water or lemonade, than a more substantial snack.

"In addition, we spend more time outdoors in the summer being active, often resulting in food cravings that are lighter and won't weigh us down," she adds.

Read more: UK weather: What happens to your body when it gets too hot?

Common food cravings in heatwaves

These cravings might include replacing soups, stews and casseroles with salads, watermelon and other water-filled fruits, chilled drinks and outdoor grilling.

"Lighter foods are more appealing than foods that require more energy to digest and thereby generate more heat in the body," says Pulde.

"Hydrating foods are also appealing to help combat water loss from sweating."

She says we can satisfy these cravings in healthier ways, with fruits, vegetables, smoothies, a variety of salads and infused water.

But we often 'weigh ourselves down' by choosing less healthy options like ice cream, sugary drinks, sodas, milkshakes and fast foods.

Little girl eating watermelon. (Getty Images)
You wouldn't think to dish up slices of watermelon for the kids in winter. (Getty Images)

Should we follow our cravings or not?

First and foremost, nothing should ruin the joy of having an ice cream in the sunshine, but we should also be mindful that our body's getting what it needs in the hot weather.

"Ideally, we want to lean in to our cravings with healthier versions of our favourite foods," says Pulde. "In this way, we derive satisfaction without sacrificing our weight, health and overall well-being."

So, instead of fizzy or sugar-filled juices and cans, she recommends choosing water infused with lemons, oranges and berries.

Or, we can choose a smoothie filled with fruit and veg, containing nutrients and fibre, over a milkshake loaded with sugar, fat and calories.

Women with smoothies. (Getty Images)
Replace your milkshake craving with a smoothie when the sun's shining. (Getty Images)

Separately, a common misconception around our cravings in heat is salt. While you might think you need more salt intake because you've sweated some of it out (we do lose a small bit), you can think again.

Sheena Bhageerutty, Assistant Nutritionist at Action on Salt, which is working to lower population salt intake, recently told Yahoo Life UK. "We are already consuming more salt than we need so whether it’s the summer or winter, we should be trying to reduce our salt content overall" and "there is no need to increase it".

Read more: Should you eat more or less salt in the heat? An expert sets the record straight

Plus, it's not only about what our body lacks or craves. Sometimes it’s just down to social settings.

In the winter it’s unlikely you’ll see an ice cream van coming down your road. So, over time, your brain will start to only associate the ice cream van with summer.

This will make you fancy one in the sun whereas you’ll probably go the whole winter without even thinking about it.

Equally, it’s rare you’ll be sitting in a beer garden in December, so your brain won’t associate a nice cold cider with that time period.

Watch: Millions to be hit by hosepipe ban

This article was first published in August 2022 and has since been updated.